“Bhaiya, kya is phone mai PUBG chalti hai?”
A teenager with a spiky hairstyle asked a local mobile retailer in a Delhi locality. The young boy and his fascination for PUBG Mobile, was just a small snapshot of Tencent’s record-breaking mobile game’s impact on popular culture in India. The Central government’s announcement adding “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” (PUBG) Mobile to the ever-growing list of banned apps with links to China has made the mobile gaming community shudder.
But it has also sent a shiver down the spine of smartphone makers who have launched or were planning speciality phones aimed at this segment. Asus ROG Phone 3, Nubia RedMagic and BlackShark are among the gaming-focused phones that come with overclocked processors, high-refresh-rate screens and features tailored for gaming such as liquid cooling or internal fans. Most of this market is for the hardcore PUBG fan with the game clocking over 33 million active users in India as per some estimates.
“PUBG Mobile is one of the most widely played intensive games which needs a specific gaming smartphone with all the bells and whistles,” explained Navkendar Singh, Research Director, Devices, India & South Asia, IDC. “The ban will certainly have an impact on sales of gaming-focused smartphones,” he said.
If that expensive Asus ROG Phone 3 you just acquired can no longer download the newest map or a new season of the battle royale game, then the fancy 144Hz screen and AirTriggers will appear pointless.
PUBG Mobile, its console-like graphics and immersive gameplay were the reason why hardcore users got attracted towards gaming phones in the first place. Without access to PUBG Mobile, it would be hard for smartphone makers to sell high-end, gaming-focused phones with high refresh rate screens, lots of RAM, a built-in cooling fan, ultrasonic triggers, and aggressive designs.
Malhotra, an analyst with Counterpoint, said that while “gaming-centric phones will be impacted”, they are a “very small part of the market.”
But the effect of the ban could be felt also on chipmakers like Qualcomm and MediaTek who have been aggressively marketing AI-infused mobile SoC chips designed specifically for gaming smartphones. Both companies in recent days have launched chips optimised for mobile gaming — the Snapdragon 732G and Helio G95 respectively.
Singh says the ban on PUBG Mobile will change the way smartphones are marketed in the coming months. “If the ban goes on for three to six months, this will obviously have an impact on the marketing of phones. Vendors might think that if I’m paying a premium for a G-series chipset, I might not want to because G chips cannot be used in marketing. So I think those kinds of decisions will be taken by the brands now.”
However, neither Singh nor Malhotra thinks the ban on PUBG Mobile will have any drastic impact on the overall smartphone market in India. “I don’t think the ban will have an impact on the smartphone market but it will have an impact on the marketing messaging of all the brands so they will have to find something else now,” Singh said.
An effective ban on PUBG Mobile in India might not impact sales of smartphones in the short run, though the long-term impact of the ban is still unclear. Think about the situation when the next iPhone or Xiaomi phone cannot install PUBG Mobile in India. And if smartphone owners are not able to download PUBG Mobile, the major winner will be Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Mobile and Garena’s Free Fire.
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